/ Technology

Farewell to instruction manuals

instruction manual

Ever been utterly bemused by an instruction manual? Or bought a product that didn’t come with one at all? These days it seems we’re just expected to know how products work, but not all of us were born tech savvy…

As tech products and services become more and more sophisticated and complex, proper instructions and guidance written in plain English can help us get the best out of them.

That’s why it seems strange that manufactures don’t always do this. We’ve found from our testing, and from many of you, that some manuals just aren’t written in jargon-free, easy-to-understand plain English. The simple question is, why not?

Tested to instruction

Instruction manuals can seem rather old fashioned and many people just won’t have a need to even take them out of the box. But we know that there are still those of us that rely on them when they get stuck with their products.

We assess instruction manuals on some products as part of our testing to see how easy they are to set up and use. And we unearth some bizarre examples. For example, this clear-as-mud snippet is from an indoor TV aerial manual:

‘When interconnecting equipment and to get the best carrier to noise then place the digital terrestrial television set top box as the first item in the signal path followed by any video or satellite receiver.’

Umm OK…

Time to be clear

Sometimes, you may even find there’s no manual at all and instead you’re left to your own, ahem, devices. You may think that in this case people should just work it out for themselves, but that supposes they have a good enough technical ability to do this. Plus, it’s often the case that on-screen menus just aren’t clear enough, being littered with confusing instructions and language.

And then things can get even more complicated with permission warnings – the little boxes that pop up with apps or websites asking our permission to do this or that. If these important warnings are worded in a way that you don’t understand, how can you know what you’re actually agreeing to?

We’re currently investigating the instructions and guidance (or lack of) we get with our technology products and services. So, do you have any examples of confusing language used in tech product literature? What do you feel about the hard-copy manuals being replaced with on-screen instructions?

Do you still want hard-copy manuals?

Yes - I can't live without them (60%, 994 Votes)

Maybe - depends on if the manual is easy to find online (32%, 538 Votes)

No - think of the trees! (8%, 125 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,657

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Carol Millington-Pratt says:
14 March 2015

Be very very careful if you download an instruction manual from the internet. I did this for a microwave and installed a browser hijacker which I couldn’t remove. Fortunately, the February 2015 Which had the solution to this problem. Thank you, Which. I’ll be very careful in future


You are quite right to mention the dangers of downloading manuals from the Web. They are a major source of malware . They rely on peoples neediness to obtain information quickly with the innocuousness of what is being offered.

Unless it is from the manufacturers site treat these site with extreme caution. However some manufacturers require you to input your machine model production number before they give you access to information – Vax for instance.

As paper lasts and lasts unlike electrical devices like ereaders and tablets they really are more long term useful for those appliances that do last for years like good washing machines. So can we subscribers have an area of Which? storage space to store back-up copies of instructions in safe environment.?

An added reason to keep up the subscription : )

And if it were subscribers providing the legwork in scanning and uploading no great strain on Which? staff.


I frequently download manuals and other documents from websites and have never had a problem with malware, but I don’t use the Windows operating system.

barrie bendall says:
15 March 2015

Why is it taken for granted that everyone has a computer?It is not the case and nor should people who choose not to have one feel pressurised to do so.

If only on these grounds, and there are others as your e-mails make clear, devices should always come with written instructions.,


I agree with you Barrie about the marginalisation of computer-free personal functionality. A friend who does not have computer access explained that even people who choose or need to have paper bills from BT (and pay for them) only get a statement of the payment due. They are directed to the website to look at their call history and charges! And I have noticed myself that many organisations are making it increasingly impossible to find out how to contact them by post. Sorry, this has nothing to do with instruction manuals but it’s part of the cheese-paring, penny-pinching cost-cutting tendency that is making lives difficult but does not appear to translate into consumer benefits or lower prices – higher profits, perhaps.


Think of on-line Government and HMRC. I can see trouble ahead but I suspect people without computers or computer savvy will be directed to, and welcomed, by the CEO of the Citizens Advice Bureau[cracy] no matter how the independent CAB offices will be able to manage.

Sherbet says:
15 March 2015

I have to agree with the other comments about manuals for cameras. It is useless having these on a disc that is impossible to access whilst on holiday. If, like me, one only uses the camera a few times a year it is so handy to have a pocket sized manual to refer to as and when required. It is also very useful to have paper instruction manuals for all household electrical items such as TVs, Freeview boxes, etc.


Too right, Sherbet. Even though we have had our PVR for several years and use it daily, I still need to refer to the manual from time to time to look up certain features or to find the channel list updating sequence [it’s far from obvious in the on-screen menus]. I wouldn’t buy a new model without a manual. It’s like the cars-without-spare-wheels Conversation that we have been having on this site: We don’t need it every day but, when we do need it, we must have it.

Cho Cho San says:
15 March 2015

Having recently bought a Samsung TV, I was surprised to find that it did not come with an Instruction Manual. I was informed that I would be able to download one & print it from my PC; however I was not told that it contained 800+ pages!!!
As I am a silver surfer & not particularly pc savvy with the added disadvantage of an EXTREMELY slow broadband speed, a paper manual would be worth it’s weight in gold to me! Call me ol